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George Frederick Ainsworth (1878–1950)

by H. J. Gibbney

This article was published:

George Frederick Ainsworth (1878-1950), public servant and businessman, was born on 20 June 1878 at Lambton, New South Wales, one of twelve children of John Ainsworth, miner and teacher, and his wife Sarah, née McKean. At 15 he joined the Department of Public Instruction as an assistant teacher but, becoming interested in science, transferred to the Commonwealth service on 31 January 1910 as an assistant in the meteorological branch, Department of Home Affairs. Seconded to (Sir) Douglas Mawson's Australasian Antarctic Expedition, he led the Macquarie Island party from December 1911 to November 1913 and his long report, published in Mawson's The Home of the Blizzard (London, 1915), remains an important source about the island.

On 16 October 1915 Ainsworth was commissioned in the 62nd Infantry Battalion, Australian Military Forces. In November 1916 he appeared in court without recorded rank as complainant in prosecuting the editor of the Brisbane Daily Standard for a censorship breach. In July 1917 he was formally appointed special-duty officer in the Counter Espionage Bureau, which had been set up early in 1916 by Major (Sir) George Steward, and was made honorary captain on 24 September. Ainsworth was responsible in Brisbane for control of agents investigating the activities of the Lutheran Church, anti-war groups and the Russian Association, besides collection and analysis of information from censored letters and other sources. He was associated with investigations into internment by Sir Samuel Griffith. Demobilized in 1918, he carried out almost the same functions as inspector in charge of Commonwealth Police, Queensland. In later years he spoke of a journey on the trans-Siberian railway but his claim to have been at the Versailles peace conference with W. M. Hughes in 1919 is unproven.

Ainsworth transferred to the Prime Minister's Department on 18 April 1921 as head of a new foreign section, established by Hughes as a counterbalance to the Pacific branch of E. L. Piesse, created by Hughes's rival W. A. Watt. Ainsworth went to London in 1923 as foreign-affairs officer with the delegation to the Imperial Economic Conference, and attended the International Labour Organisation meeting at Geneva as sole Australian delegate. Returning to Australia in mid-1924, he was given six months furlough but saw no future in the public service after the fall of his patron and resigned from 31 December—a decision he later regretted.

Until 1929 Ainsworth managed the Melbourne motor-parts firm of Kellow-Falkiner Pty Ltd, then went to New Zealand as general manager for the Chrysler Corporation. He returned to Queensland about 1932 as general manager for the Barnet Glass Rubber Co. Ltd. Early in 1935 he resigned and in July became State organizer for the United Australia Party.

After racing losses, Ainsworth moved to Sydney about 1937. He owned a delicatessen in Leichhardt, lived in Vaucluse, delivered radio talks on the Antarctic, and was briefly employed again in meteorology during World War II. He died intestate in Royal Prince Alfred Hospital on 11 October 1950 of pyelonephritis and uraemia and was cremated with Congregational rites. He was survived by his wife Mary Catherine Statham, whom he had married in 1917 at Murwillumbah, and by a daughter; a son had predeceased him. His estate was valued for probate at £2450.

A tall, angular man with a commanding manner, Ainsworth's acid judgments of people included a reference to Winston Churchill as 'a bumptious bullfrog'. His dramatic rise and fall in the public service was probably linked to his admiration for Hughes.

Ainsworth's brother William (1875-1945) was a railway worker who became secretary of the New South Wales Locomotive, Engine-drivers, Firemen and Cleaners' Association in 1911-35. He was a Labor member Legislative Council in 1925-34 and worked closely with Ben Chifley.

Select Bibliography

  • Queensland and Queenslanders (Brisb, 1936)
  • Daily Mail (Brisbane), 3 Nov 1916
  • Courier Mail (Brisbane), 9 July 1935
  • A391, history file, and CP772, item 1, and A1, 33/1365 (National Archives of Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

H. J. Gibbney, 'Ainsworth, George Frederick (1878–1950)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 24 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (Melbourne University Press), 1979

View the front pages for Volume 7

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